As Uvalde funerals continue, authorities’ timeline of the terror at Robb Elementary continues to shift
Jun 1, 2022, 10:00 PM | Updated: Dec 29, 2022, 11:32 am
(CNN) — With more funerals and visitations scheduled Wednesday for victims of the deadliest US school shooting in nearly 10 years, more changes in authorities’ narrative of how the May 24 massacre unfolded in the South Texas city of Uvalde are emerging.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, or DPS, now says the door the shooter used to access Robb Elementary was closed, though not locked, when he entered before killing 21 people there.
That’s a change from last week, when DPS Director Col. Steven McCraw said a teacher had propped the back door open and left it that way. On Tuesday, department spokesperson Travis Considine told the Associated Press the teacher did prop the door open but closed it once she realized a shooter was on campus, and the door did not lock. The department’s press secretary confirmed Tuesday to CNN the AP report was accurate.
Nineteen children and two teachers were killed after an 18-year-old gunman entered adjoining classrooms and opened fire.
Tuesday’s clarification about the door represents just one of the shifts in authorities’ explanation of the massacre’s timeline. They face mounting questions over why 80 minutes elapsed from the time officers were first called to the moment a tactical team entered the locked classrooms and killed the gunman.
Meanwhile, families and friends have begun burying their loved ones, and the community continues to cope. In Uvalde’s sun-drenched town square, a park fountain is the centerpiece of a growing memorial honoring those lost.
Hundreds of flower bouquets ring the fountain, stacked alongside toys, stuffed animals, candles and letters in memory of the 21 killed. Framed posters show smiling faces, leaning against walls covered with hearts drawn and names written in chalk.
On a pathway leading to the square, visitors slowly walk past a row of crosses, stopping to pray or reflect on the devastating tragedy. Each cross — several feet tall and draped with flowers, balloons and messages of remembrance — carries the name of someone killed.
Ryan Ramirez, the father of Alithia Ramirez, said he waited for nearly 12 hours before learning she was killed. He described his 10-year-old daughter as “very lovable and kind.”
“She was just there for anybody that needed anything. And that was one thing that we all loved about her,” he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday.
Alithia “loved drawing,” her father said, and when he met with President Joe Biden during his Uvalde visit on Sunday, Biden told him that he would have one of Alithia’s drawings displayed at the White House.
She “always had a crayon in hand, just going to town,” Ramirez said.
The slaughter ended Robb Elementary’s school year a few days early, and students and staff “will not be returning” to that campus, the district’s superintendent said Wednesday. Superintendent Hal Harrell’s statement did not elaborate on the building’s future; a state senator has suggested the school may be razed.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday asked the state’s lieutenant governor and the state House speaker to convene special legislative committees to make “legislative recommendations on school safety, mental health, social media, police training, firearm safety and more.”
Abbott also directed the Texas School Safety Center, an official research center at Texas State University, to conduct “comprehensive school safety reviews” and make sure all school districts’ safety and security committees meet before the new academic year to discuss needs, review procedures and ensure all appropriate staff are trained on safety procedures, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
The governor said the center must provide a progress report by October 1.
Three people injured by the gunman remained hospitalized Tuesday at University Hospital San Antonio. The gunman’s 66-year-old grandmother, who was shot in the face before the attack on the school, is in good condition; a 9-year-old girl is in good condition; and a 10-year-old girl is in serious condition, the hospital said.
Schools police chief says he’s in touch with authorities
Meanwhile, the Uvalde school district police chief who was the incident commander during the shooting told CNN exclusively Wednesday he is in touch daily with the Texas Department of Public Safety but declined to answer further questions about the massacre.
Pedro “Pete” Arredondo has faced criticism for the decision to have officers posted in the hallway outside the classrooms where the shooting took place, waiting for more than an hour to intervene before a Border Patrol tactical team entered the room and killed the gunman.
Asked about reports he was not cooperating with DPS, Arredondo told CNN, “I am in contact with DPS every day.” Arredondo was wearing a badge and a gun when he spoke to CNN outside of his home in Uvalde.
In a separate interview with CNN outside his office, Arredondo said Wednesday he’s not going to release any information while funerals are ongoing.
“We’re going to be respectful to the family,” he said. “We’re going to do that eventually. Whenever this is done and the families quit grieving, then we’ll do that obviously.”
It’s the first time Arredondo has commented publicly since two brief news statements on the day of the attack, in which he said the gunman was dead but provided little information on the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation, and took no questions.
On Tuesday, DPS said Arredondo had not responded to a request for a follow-up interview with the Texas Rangers, who are investigating the shooting.
The school’s police department and the Uvalde Police Department are “still cooperating,” said Considine, the department’s spokesperson.
Once the Rangers’ report on the massacre is finished, Uvalde County District Attorney Christina Busbee will review it and “see if there are any criminal charges that need to be brought,” she told CNN Wednesday.
McCraw, the DPS director, said last week the person who made the decision not to breach the Uvalde elementary school classroom was the school district police chief, calling it the “wrong decision” to not engage the gunman sooner.
Arredondo had completed a school-based law enforcement active shooter training in December 2021, according to his professional training file, obtained by CNN. Prior to that, he had also completed two other active shooter trainings in 2020 and 2019, the file says.
Texas’ largest police union, meanwhile, has called for its members “to cooperate fully with all official governmental investigations into actions relating to the law enforcement response to the Uvalde mass shooting.”
The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas will refrain from commenting on the specifics of the investigation, out of respect for the families and the investigative process, it said in a news release. But it noted “there has been a great deal of false and misleading information in the aftermath of this tragedy.”
“Some of the information came from the very highest levels of government and law enforcement. Sources that Texans once saw as iron-clad and completely reliable have now been proven false, “the union’s release reads. “This false information has exacerbated ill-informed speculation which has, in turn, created a hotbed of unreliability when it comes to finding the truth.”
The Justice Department announced Sunday it will conduct a review of the law enforcement response to the shooting at the mayor’s request.
Arredondo’s spoke with CNN a day after he was sworn in as a city council member after being elected to the post last month.
On Tuesday, new members of the city council went to City Hall “at their convenience” to be sworn in, Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin said. No formal ceremony was held “out of respect for the families who buried their children today, and who are planning to bury their children in the next few days,” McLaughlin said.
The mayor had said Monday a special city council meeting at which new members were to be sworn in would “not take place as scheduled,” adding “our focus on Tuesday is on our families who lost loved ones.”
Arredondo’s swearing-in Tuesday night was “a private thing” out of respect for the families, he told CNN outside his house Wednesday, adding the families are the focus right now.
A posthumous award for one student
As the community mourns, more details are emerging about how those inside responded to the terror.
Robb Elementary educator Nicole Ogburn had just turned on a movie for her students when she saw someone carrying a gun outside her classroom window, she said.
“I just, like, looked out the window and I see this guy with a gun walking up. And I just told my class, ‘Get on the ground, get on the ground, get to the corner,'” Ogburn told CNN affiliates KABB/WOAI.
“I just kept hearing shots fired, and I just kept praying, ‘God, please don’t let him in my room, please don’t let him come in this room,’ and for some reason, he didn’t.”
This week, she was posthumously awarded a Bronze Cross, “one of the highest honors in Girl Scouting,” the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas announced in a statement Tuesday.
“Amerie did all she could to save the lives of her classmates and teachers,” the statement said. “We will carry her story with us always and ensure her brave actions will endure for generations.”
More resources are inbound, state says
As the shared trauma settles in, Texas officials are also working to address needs on the ground, they said. To expedite the allocation of state and local resources, Abbott declared a state of disaster for Uvalde on Tuesday, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
“The disaster declaration will accelerate all available state and local resources to assist the Uvalde community, as well as suspend regulations that would prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in coping with the aftermath of the tragic shooting,” the release said.
“The community of Uvalde has been left devastated by last week’s senseless act of violence at Robb Elementary School and should not have to encounter any difficulty in receiving the support needed to heal,” Abbott said.
Other assistance has come from acts of service by volunteers from out-of-town.
Patrick Johnson, 58, was so overcome with grief after hearing about the shooting that he drove seven hours from Harleton, Texas, to Uvalde, filling his trunk with children’s toys from a Walmart to pass out in the town square, he told CNN.
For three days, children were invited to choose any toy they liked from a table crowded with stuffed animals, miniature cars and soccer balls.
“When you lose something, especially as a child, you need something else to hold onto,” Johnson said. “It brings joy to the kids, so it brings joy to me.”